It isn’t widely known, but I am not much of a houseplant grower. For some reason I tend to forget to water my indoor charges. Fertilizer? You would think I never even heard of the stuff.
My first gardens included many indoor houseplants that never saw the light of a sunny day outdoors. Yet they thrived. I did have a method to my plant choices during those years spent “up Noth” where I could only garden outdoors for three or four months. I would purchase my plants from stores that didn’t coddle them. I figured if they survived the neglect and harsh conditions in these non-plant departments, that they would make it with my less than perfect care. Usually this worked, even with half-dead sale plants.
Nowadays, when I move tropical plants – also known as houseplants to much of the gardening population – indoors, they just hang on until they can be moved back to their rightful place in the garden setting.
The ZZ Plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia 'Emerald Fronds') is the ultimate houseplant for plant killers. It has that dinosaur look that appeals to us plant collectors, with its extremely shiny leaves that grow stiffly upright from an underground tuber. The swollen stems at the base of the leaves show its water-holding capability. (For some reason, these stems remind me of the African Baobab Tree, Adansonia digitata.)
I could leave my ZZ plant outdoors since its roots will survive 25 degree F. weather but I am hoping it will reach its full potential of three feet tall so I bring it indoors to overwinter. It thrives on my porch in the summer where it gets very little light from the tree-shaded garden. I water it occasionally after the soil dries out.
Those of you who garden USDA Zones 9-11 can grow the ZZ plant outdoors year-round in part sun or shade. If your soil is so acid you think you can only grow blueberries, the ZZ plant is for you. It will grow in soil with a pH of 4-5.
I bought my ZZ plant at a plant auction held by a local Camellia Society. It has at least doubled in size in a couple years. If you are looking for an unusual plant or one that is not readily available in your area, do check out local Master Gardener sales and Garden Society sales. Members love to share the unusual things that thrive in their own gardens. You can also get good growing advice from these members.
Stokes Tropicals lists the ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia 'Emerald Fronds') in their on-line catalog.
By John Kauffman, Ph.D. for TruGreen
Photographs courtesy of TruGreen
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